Thursday, July 21, 2011

Numen by Phil Keaggy and Kyle Jones

Phil Keaggy has been recording albums on his own or with others for about forty years now. He has something like 70 albums in his catalog. So how do you make that much music and keep it fresh and creative? Phil does it by looking for new collaborators. Just over the past few years he has worked with Randy Stonehill, Jack Giering and John Sferra (known as the Phil Keaggy Trio), Jeff Johnson, Mike Pachelli, and Glass Harp in addition to a steady stream of solo albums. These collaborations have paid off. His album with Jeff Johnson, Frio Suite, is one of my favorites and is still in heavy rotation on my playlist. His Phil Keaggy Trio album, Interdimensional Traveller, is a lot of fun. Both of these albums stand out as being something quite different from the stuff Phil does on his own and have encouraged him to stretch out in new ways.
His latest album, Numen, is a duet album with percussionist Kyle Jones. Jones is a percussionist who uses lots of non-Western instruments and techniques. He brings these world-music sensibilities to this instrumental album giving it an Indian feel that is a welcome addition to Keaggy’s sound.
The album starts out with the sound of the tabla and acoustic guitar in “Ebullince,” a fine opening to the album (and one of my favorite tracks) that sounds different than anything Phil has produced before. The Indian percussion that Jones brings to the sound of this album has inspired Keaggy to go to places he usually doesn’t go on his own. There are some moments where it is obvious that you’re listening to a Phil Keaggy album – the tapping in “Ruach,” the electric riff in “Ziggarat” or the acoustic opening to “Dia Logos” for example – but then there are moments just a few minutes later where it is hard to give examples of similar playing in any of his other albums.
Clocking in at nearly an hour, this album might be a little too long, especially the nine-minute track “Kahawa” that appears near the end of the album and, generally speaking, I like the tracks that sound more composed as opposed to improvised but that may only be my interpretation of how they came about. It sounds to me like many of these tracks happened because Keaggy and Jones sat in a room together, played what they felt and then created fully produced tracks after the fact (something that Phil did to good effect on his Roundabout album.) This gives a sense of adventure to the album – you can hear the fun that they had at times as they found new things - and Keaggy’s innate sense of melody makes even improvised things interesting. The addition of electric guitar and even violin on some tracks makes for good variety.
Numen is a fun album and it is great to see Phil Keaggy still exploring and finding new things to play even after all these years. This album has not seen wide distribution (I don’t think it is on iTunes or Amazon, for example) so look for it at

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